Do you believe we are in the final generation before Christ returns?
The First Century Church
The first century church lived as we do today and that is with the expectation of Jesus’ return at any moment. In fact, some had even quit their jobs because they expected Jesus to return very soon, but we now know that after 2,000 years, they were certainly wrong, but there is something to be said about living with the expectation of Jesus’ return at any moment. For one thing, we will live a holier life if we expect Jesus to come back today, tomorrow, or very soon. The Apostle Peter thought Jesus might return before he and the other disciples died, writing “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1st Pet 4:7). The Apostle Paul also wrote, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:12). Even Jesus’ half-brother, James thought Jesus return was soon, writing “You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8), so the first century church clearly thought Jesus was coming back in their lifetime, especially with Jesus saying “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt 24:34).
The History of the Church
Throughout history, the church has always thought that the end was near. During the black plague, many thought it was the coming of the end of this age. During Colonial America times, Christians thought the Revolutionary War was a sign of Jesus’ return. The same thing was thought about the Civil War which was one of the bloodiest wars in American history. During World War Two, many thought Hitler was the beast, but again, they were wrong. What seems to be the pattern of the church throughout history is that each generation thought that theirs was the last and I believe that is just as how God wants it to be. We should always be ready for His return.
The Fig Tree
When Jesus was speaking about the end of the age or the time of His coming to judge the world, He wanted His disciples to learn “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near” (Matt 24:32) and “when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (Matt 24:33), but what are “these things” that He wanted us to be looking for? He wanted us to observe nature itself to look for a time when “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matt 24:29), and this could be from war, volcanic eruption, or any other number of natural catastrophes. It won’t be long after this that there “will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt 24:30).
Signs of His Soon Return?
Are we seeing the signs of Jesus’ return today? I believe we are because there is so much apostasy in the so-called churches of today. Many preachers refuse to preach the gospel that Jesus brought, which was a call to “repentance and faith” (Mark 1:15). They tend to preach a soft, easy, believism that doesn’t require any cost, but Jesus said, we should count the cost. It seems all you hear today is that God is love and love is God and we are to love everyone and that’s all there is to it, but we are to warn those who are not saved to flee from the coming wrath of God (Rom 2:4-7). Jesus even said that “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36b). We don’t hear much about God’s wrath and a call to live holy lives today behind the pulpits, instead it is “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Okay, here’s the plan for your life; you will be “put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matt 24:9b-11). These things are happening today as there have been more martyrs for their faith in the last 100 years than in the previous 2,000 years before it, combined! Yes, God is love, but people will hate us for our faith, and many are going to fall away, and indeed, many have, and there are no shortages of false prophets who are leading many astray, so this well could be the last generation before Jesus returns.
I think the reason that Jesus didn’t want us to know when His return would be was because we would be lax in living the Christian life and then, just before we knew Jesus was coming, we’d get our act together, so God wants us to live with the expectation that Jesus could come back at any second, and He can. We must be ready at all times and not think He is delaying His coming. Knowing human nature, if we knew the day or the hour, we might be prodigals, only returning to God as the time drew near; therefore God has always wanted the church to live with the end in mind, and to not know when that exact time of Jesus’ coming would be. This is so that we would always be ready for His appearance, and not sleep while there is work for the kingdom to do.